Tag Archives: personal

Failing Successfully

From fairly early childhood, I was a reserved, self-contained person. A shy introvert with anxiety issues; really it’s a wonder I ever left the house! I was also a very sensitive child, and the slings and arrows of even quite ordinary fortune hit me harder than I suspect most people realized. Everyone has coping mechanisms for dealing with the parts of life that are unpleasant, and mine was to retreat into a shell of arrogant ultracompetence. If I didn’t already know how to do it (or could pick it up without it being evident to an observer that I hadn’t done it before), it wasn’t worth doing, and that was all there was to that.

Unhealthy? Absolutely, and also ultimately self-destructive in that it prevented me from being willing or able to learn to do anything with a learning curve steep enough to notice. I didn’t learn how to learn, or that it was OK to get up and try again after falling down. This led to dropping out of college twice before finally finishing, and to dropping out of grad school twice before giving up on that entirely. It led to leaving job after job, after the first tiny misstep in learning the ropes of a new place left me feeling like a complete irredeemable failure.

Which led in turn, perhaps inevitably, to the life I am now living: That of a self-directed, self-employed creative type. But the thing is, the early period of that life was a horribly rocky time in which I had to learn to fail. Because it turns out one cannot create worthwhile things without creating a whole horrific slew of garbage, first, and throwing it away and refining techniques and getting back on the metaphorical horse. I also had to come to terms with the fact that almost all entrepreneurial endeavors fail (and indeed so did the first of mine), and that is ok. Failing does not make one a failure! It seems so obvious, but in all my life I am not sure I have ever learned a more difficult or painful lesson. (I am not actually sure I would ever have learned it had I not been able to do my failing in safe solitude with no one to offer comfort I would have been unable to perceive as anything other than mocking.)

So these days I am a moderately successful entrepreneur, and well-accomplished at failing successfully. And one of the things I have had to learn is that “failure” doesn’t always mean what others would define it as meaning. For instance, I regard it as a failure every single time I get a bad review. Does that mean I am going to rush out and try to bribe people into changing the reviews? No, of course not. For one thing, that’s a pretty shady business practice, and for another, it’s a remarkably quick way to go broke. If I made a mistake of any kind, I will obviously make it right as quickly and as thoroughly as I can, but in other cases, while I will feel bad about it, I simply accept the review and let the averages speak for themselves. And they do! Fortunately, because even though I’ve become somewhat inured to the occasional less-glowing review, it still takes 20-odd positive reviews to get the taste of a bad one out of my mouth, because I am evidently a diva.

Anyway. I’m going to feel like a poor review is a mark in the “fail” column anyway, and for years I felt bad about feeling that way, because it seemed like I ought to be able to shrug it off, “grow a thicker skin”, all those things people say. I have recently realized something, though: For me, the “personal” touch is part of what makes my products worthwhile. It’s part of what it means to be an artisan, and I don’t get to pick and choose which parts of “personal” I want to experience. The bad comes with the good, and it’s OK on the average, because the good is really, really good.

And even the bad – the poor reviews, the failures – are usually good in their way. How else do I learn to do better, if not by learning how I am lacking now?

Wait, what season it it again?

Half a dozen years ago, I was, like most people I know, always ready with the “wait, they put the Christmas trees out HOW early?!” irritation. It seemed like mid-November was plenty early enough, and the scope creep sending Christmas back into October, fercryinoutloud, was Just Too Much.

So then I started Foam on the Range, and after the first year I realized that if I waited until October to think about Christmas, there was no way I’d have things ready to sell during actual Christmas. So OK, fine, now I have to think about Christmas a bit earlier, I can live with that. But each year I have realized I didn’t start early enough – I would find myself floundering about in an ungainly rush trying to get seasonal products finished after people already started asking for them, and generally rushing about like decapitated poultry for the whole last 10 weeks of the year. So every year I move my “start thinking about this” time earlier and earlier until this year I am starting, well, now.

Yes, you read that right. I have made Lists of candidate soaps and scents for the fall and winter months, and in the next weeks I will be embarking upon tests of these scents, and then I’ll crank into production with them, and maybe this year I’ll actually get the jump on the holidays and be ready in time. And even worst-case scenario, at least I’ll have LESS to finish up in my end-of-year headless-chicken-dance.

But I can tell you one thing: It is downright surreal to smell pine and pumpkin in June. We as humans are very olfactorily-oriented, and these scents trigger memories and expectations and emotions. And since in my basement soap cave there is no season (it’s always cool and darkish down there), I get wrapped up in the fall-and-winter scent cloud and then come up and go outside and am actually startled to be smacked in the face with the bright, hot, [either too humid or too dry] reality of summer on the prairie.

I may be an advocate of “live in the now” whenever possible, it’s just that some days I’m not quite sure when that is.

But don’t worry. I won’t be trying to SELL Christmas stuff until at least October. I promise.

Workspace Incoming

A few months ago, I decided to tackle the Project of converting the unfinished part of our basement into a soap studio, and embarked upon making Plans. As it turns out, the plans have developed layers and dependencies and delays and at this rate I’ll be surprised if I get the project finished in time to make Christmas soap in the new studio, but the dream itself is serving as a nice motivator. It’s going to be FANTASTIC to expand the soap (and other stuff) production out of my teeny-tiny 1930s-era kitchen (well, and the entire dining room, and most of the spare bedroom) into a vast expanse of basement, with shelving and countertops built to spec, and curing space galore. I’d say I won’t know what to do with all the space, but I’d be lying. I know exactly what I’ll do with all of it: Fill it with soap, and promptly start daydreaming about a warehouse. Or a storefront.

I may have a bit of a problem with being unable to be satisfied with things as they are, pretty much ever. But then, that’s why I am self-employed in the first place, right?

Right. OK, I’m off to whip some more body butter, and set up for tomorrow’s gel soap production, and finish listing the latest batch of clearance, and so forth. Workworkwork – I need to clear away enough of the other items from my to-do list so I can make soap before the end of the week – I’ve got my next try at the leopard-spot soap lined up!

Happy Mother’s Day!

My mother and her mother!

My mother and her mother!

We had a lovely time today with two of my favorite women in the world (and, y’know, some other people, too). My brother and I made an assortment of tapas, and there was sangria, and we got to watch my adorable toddler-niece run about like toddlers do, and it was all a lot of fun.

I am not a mother myself, but I love Mother’s Day. We’re actually quite a celebratin’ family – any excuse to get together and eat cake is seized upon quite eagerly – but we don’t let the frequency of our festivities distract us from the reasons for them, and I am not blind to how fortunate I am to still have not only one but TWO maternal generations to celebrate. And this year, we celebrated them by cooking them dinner! (I also gave my mother a perfume from a line I’m working on developing, but really, the dinner was the main gift.)

I hope all of you had a lovely Mother’s Day, or at least a lovely Sunday. I think I will top off my Sunday afternoon with a bit of a nap – and then get up and make a batch of Hand & Body Cream. Can’t put off the gettin’ back to work forever!


…well, some of them. But mostly this is about the new boxes we have to store/transport our fragrances in, so we can take them to shows and make some of our products on-site. I’m really thrilled to have them.

With cap-labels of many colors!

The boxes stack neatly on one another for easy and safe transport, they’re really sturdy and solid, and they’re gorgeous to boot! My father built them for us; he’s a man of many talents.

See? Many talents.

Tonight’s project is labeling and organizing the rest of the fragrance oils. Whew.

Memorial Day…

…one day late, as the lack of air conditioning caused a near-complete computer shutdown at our house.

Anyway: I’m not much of one for Memorial Day’s traditional celebration, in general. I don’t visit graves with flowers, now or at any other time – I fully respect the use this ritual has for many people, but my own memories of people I’ve lost are not helped by visiting a memorial marker. My remembrance is much more day-to-day.

For example, the most recent loved one I’ve lost was my maternal grandfather; a role model to me in more ways than I can easily describe. Grandpa was at least in part responsible for my lackadaisical approach to recipes when cooking, my belief that one should never stop asking questions until one is damned well satisfied with the answers, my distaste for being expected to follow someone else’s rules – and, most relevantly to the general subject matter of this blog, my entrepreneurial spirit.

See, he was self-employed for most of his life. This doesn’t mean he started a business and watched it flourish and grow for 60 years, of course. No, it means he started a business – selling something, or making something – and threw himself into it for a while, and then it folded, leaving him with leftover widgets to stash in the garage and, usually, a New Idea for whatever his next business would be – once, it was even making soap! During my childhood, he opened a neighborhood hardware store, which he ran successfully for ten years and then sold, thinking, I expect, that he would then retire. After all, he was in his 70s at that point. But he got bored just sitting around at home, and drove my grandmother crazy for a few months raising chickens in the yard. After the chickens met their eventual end, he ran for the city council on a whim, driving back to Wichita early from a trip out of town to make it to the office before the deadline to file to be on the ballot – and won!

I don’t possess even half of my grandfather’s determination, and my ability to believe a business into being is still being honed. But Foam on the Range is not my first entrepreneurial endeavor (although it’s most definitely the one I’m most passionate about), and all of the times before, when I’ve sat with my dreams crumbling around my shoulders and then dusted myself off and set about building another one, I’ve done it with my grandfather’s example before me, and his support behind me. He’s been gone now for several years, but every time a business challenge comes up, I swear I can hear his advice on how to deal with it.

I miss you, Grandpa. To the world, you were a city councilman, a local businessman, an active part of the local community, a veteran twice over. To the family, you were the patriarch, in a very real sense – and to me, an example of how to take life and make it into what you want.


I have loved science since before I knew the word. I tinkered with everything as a child, wanting to know why things acted the way they did – I mixed things together, took things apart, rolled things down other things, and generally made a pretty tremendous mess. When older, I took every science class my tiny high school had to offer, and went on to major in biology, and then embarked upon a path to get a PhD in microbiology. I am, in this as in many other things, an unabashed geek.

I am also, it turns out, a dilettante. I was never able to settle down and focus properly on a single area of study in grad school. Learning that the scientists who discover cool things rarely get to do much and the scientists who do things almost never do anything new was also quite a disappointment. I ended up leaving after my first year to flit about to other career choices for some time in what I am quite certain my poor parents thought was utterly feckless aimlessness.

…they might have been right. I really don’t settle down well to following well-worn “normal” paths, as it happens.

Still and all, I never lost my love for science, even if I hadn’t found the right form of it in the halls of academia – and as I’ve mentioned before, this serves me very well indeed in the making of soap and other products.

Which brings me to this: Next on my to-read pile is a book called Scientific Soapmaking, which I’m very much looking forward to. It is essentially inevitable that I’ll geek out so much over at least something I learn in it that I’ll have to share it with all of you, but I’ll do my best to keep the science accessible to, let’s say, a moderately-interested layman.


Right. Reading now. Writing later.